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In yesterday’s Question of the Day, our Fearless Leader posted the links to Birchwood Casey hostage targets and an American Rifleman article on how to take the “hostage shot” with a shotgun. The post generated quite a few responses. I’ve got this one wired, especially if the hostage situation ever takes place inside my house and involves somebody I love as the hostage. I made my decision about what I’m willing to do after long and careful deliberation, after I discovered my abilities and limitations firing a shotgun at close range . . .

I pray that I never face such a horrible, extreme situation. If I do, I hope it’s on the street and involves strangers, as I’m beating feet and calling the cavalry as fast as I can. But inside my home, well, that’s a different matter.

RF’s post and subsequent comments inspired me to verify the basis of my home hostage rescue strategy. This morning, before breakfast, I got down onto the floor. My lovely and talented professional artist wife traced the outline of my Frankenstein’s melon onto poster board. I used the tracing as a template and cut out several silhouettes of heads and the beginnings of shoulders.

To help me arrange the targets and to differentiate between the blank white blobs, I added ovals about where the eyes would be, and magic-markered some squiggles or dots for hair. Then I put up the targets on my backyard range, and gathered unto myself, my shotguns, my buckshot and slugs, and my camera.

The main shotgun was my Remington 870, wearing an improved cylinder smoothbore barrel topped with rifle sights. It’s the barrel commonly sold as the “slug barrel” at various outlets. For giggles, I also fetched along my Stoeger Coach gun.

I stapled the hostage target to a slice of cardboard,  and then used clothes pins to affix the bad guy target immediately behind the hostage target, and edged it to the left enough so that one of its eyes was exposed. To avoid confusion, the left and right are my left and my right, not the target’s.

I then shot the bad guy target from various distances using Winchester Ranger law enforcement 00 buckshot. I also took two longer shots with Remington Slugger slugs. Just for fun, I fired the last shot of 00 buck from the left barrel of my Stoeger Coach gun, just to see what would happen.

I know. I know. The Rabbi is exactly and completely correct that doing this shot on a range can never get close to duplicating the emotional stress and adrenaline and horror that the real thing would induce. But even the trained professionals on a SWAT team don’t know what that stress is really like until they are also faced with such a situation for the first time. But practicing and knowing their own abilities beforehand certainly helps prepare them for the real thing.

But here are my results.

First, 10-inches. As you can see the left side of the bad guy target had a gaping hole in it, and the hostage target was unscathed.

I then backed up to three yards. Again, a massive, ragged hole appeared in the left side of the bad guy target, and the hostage remained lead-free. However, at three yards, both the bad guy and the hostage target showed many tiny dimples from powder stippling. This stippling appeared on the hostage target only at three yards and no other distances.

I backed up to five yards and put the front sight post on the bottom of the left earlobe on the bad guy. As you can see, four 00 buckshot pellets landed in an ear-sized group at five yards. The pattern was so tight I could have  held even deeper inside the bad guy target and still left the hostage target unventilated.

Then I backed up to seven yards, and repeated the process. Again I aimed at the bottom edge of the left earlobe. The results were not markedly different from those at five yards. Both the five and seven yard shots proved pretty simple to make and the buckshot pattern remained relatively small and controllable.

Then I really amped things up and pushed back to 10 yards with the buckshot. I was fresh out of un-holed heads, so I recycled them by flipping over the bad guy target to expose the fresh side. Ten yards. Thirty feet. A first-down in football. There’s no way I would ever attempt such a shot in a real situation, but I wanted to find my limits and document them for the TTAG readers.

I focused on the front sight, controlled my breathing, and pressed the trigger.

Boom! The hostage target remained pristine and untouched, and the bad guy blossomed with nasty 00 holes. I had made the shot, but one pellet did leak a bit right, and was uncomfortably close to the hostage target. Imagining such results involving people I care about gave me a tighter breathing and zero at the bone, as the poet once said about encountering a snake. I know that with a shotgun charged with buckshot, this shot is a definite no-go beyond seven yards.

Just to get really wild and crazy with it, I flipped over a couple more heads, and fired at them from 15 and 20 yards with the slugs. Again, my personal limit would be about 7 yards or so. But I did want to stretch it a bit.  The 15-yard results show two holes, the slug above the bad guy’s left ear, and the slug wadding clipping out a bit of the top.

At 20 yards, despite my best efforts, I totally missed everything. But seven 12-gauge blasts later, six of the bad guy targets were effectively ventilated, and the hostage target remained unharmed, except for some three-yard powder stippling.

So I put the hostage on the line one more time. Hey, it was traced off of my head. My head? My choice. I put a final round of Winchester Ranger buckshot into the left barrel of my Stoeger Coach Gun and stepped off to seven yards.

I  put the gold bead at the front of the twin barrels on the bottom edge of the left earlobe and pulled the left trigger. The left barrel of my coach gun shoots more true than the right barrel, and its modified choke kept the buckshot pattern tighter than the improved cylinder on my Remington 870. The Coach Gun pattern was so small, that the resulting hits seemed more like grazes on the left edge than penetrating shots. Despite having only a gold bead for a sight, the tighter choke in the left barrel of my Coach Gun makes it even more controllable and precise than my 870 with rifle sights, at least at seven yards.

So, if faced with such an unbelievable horror of somebody holding a family member hostage, I know that I am physically capable of making this shot with my shotguns, with 00 buckshot, from seven yards or less. Again, I pray that I live to be about 103, and die peacefully in my sleep without ever having to find out if I can do it under real stress.

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  1. In the extraordinarily unlikely event that I am ever required to take a “hostage shot” (actually, it should be called a “hostage taker shot,” ’cause shooting the hostage is not the outcome we want), I will run up on the BG and shoot him point blank if I can.

  2. This is actually a component of Lewis Awerbuck’s shotgun course using his “mirage target system”, a 3 dimensional target capable of 3 dimensional movement. The moving around part was quite unnerving at first. It’s gyrating around in unpredictable directions (sounds like real life).
    I forget the distances we used (5-7 yards maybe) but it was able to show that you can make that hostage shot with a shotgun using buckshot.
    The video is turned on its side for some reason, but you get the idea.

  3. Good piece. I’d still much rather go to the handgun if need be, the flash alone could ruin the hostage’s day. With all respect, you might want to put a barrel band on the 870 to secure your extension tube to the barrel, they have a tendency to work loose and go BOING. I am speaking from personal experience.

  4. I pray that I live to be about 103, and die peacefully in my sleep

    Not screaming in fear like the people riding in the car you were driving 😉

  5. Cujo, check on the barrel band. I’ve got it in a box in the gun room. I recently swapped the Rem 870 from long barrel and short hunting mag to short barrel and long mag, and just forgot to put the barrel band back on.

  6. Although I do honestly appreciate your efforts, I must respectfully say that I don’t think that this test proves very much. You may have proved that you can shoot stationary targets in good lighting conditions under low stress conditions… when nobody is shooting back. However, you have simply taken too many variables out of the equation to make this a useful exercise. Obviously, we have to assume the perp in this scenario is going to be armed with a gun or at the very least a knife – otherwise the whole “self-defense” angle probably goes out the window. Also, even though most perps are not the brightest individuals, I don’t know of too many people that would stand still and let you shoot them in this situation. Unless you can add movement into this test, it is utterly worthless. Moreover, these types of shooting scenarios often develop very quickly, and most people simply can’t think fast enough to make the kinds of split second decisions one would need to make in order to successfully pull this off. Most of you have probably seen the video footage of the Reagan shooting / assasination attempt – that provides a good example of what I’m talking about. Perhaps attempting a test using paintball or simunitions and facemasks might get you closer to the real thing – althought even then would be hard to duplicate the addrenaden rush you would be experiencing. Maybe sprinting a few laps around your house would get your heart-rate up enough to be semi-close. Overall, I think that the “shoot the armed hostage taker holding a hostage at close range” concept is a bad idea in the vast majority of potential situations.

  7. Nice article. Of course there are other variables in a combat situation, and the author acknowledges that very clearly. Should that keep you from seeing what you can do under paper target circumstances? Hell no. Is this useful information? Hell yes.


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